Not many people can say they eat hundreds of cupcakes in a matter of weeks, but that is just what Florian Bellanger does. Bellanger, 43, a Paris native who made his name as pastry chef of Le Bernardin in New York and later of the New York branch of the prestigious French bakery Fauchon, lives in Englewood and is chef/owner of Mad Mac in Paterson, a baker of authentic French madeleines and macarons (madmacnyc.com). He also happens to be a judge on the Food Network hit series Cupcake Wars.
Now early in season four, Bellanger and Sprinkles Cupcakes founder Candace Nelson on each episode critique the creations of three anxious bakers. “We are talking about 14 cupcakes a day when we shoot,” says Bellanger in a French accent as thick as crème caramel. “I have to admit that, after 10, I’m bloated and it is getting difficult.” (We were speaking to him during the taping this fall of seasons four and five.) Between takes, Nelson sometimes jogged around the building to burn calories. Bellanger, who used to clean his plate, this time around “came to the conclusion that I could get all the information without eating all of it.”
Bellanger’s technical expertise and tough critiquing have led to his being called “the Simon Cowell of cupcakes.” Embracing this role of tough guy, the chef says, “I’m proud that I don’t lie to them. I am speaking my heart, and I make sure that I never go personal on them. I think sometimes I hurt their feelings enough by criticizing their food.”
Bellanger’s restraint was sorely tested when, early one morning during this fall’s seven weeks of taping, the judges were presented a cupcake made “with tuna and guacamole, and the entire cupcake was frosted with mayonnaise! We were shocked. We didn’t know what to say.” Unable to hide his disgust, he shouted, “This is the worst cupcake I have ever had. This cupcake is inedible!”
A hard-hitting character is exactly what the producers wanted, though from the outset, some viewers complained about Bellanger’s thick accent. “Even now,” he says, “I see some tweets and stuff on Facebook saying they don’t understand a word of that French guy, get rid of him. Yesterday I was talking about the texture [of a cupcake] being ‘moisty,’ and Candace said, ‘You just invented a new word.’ I was like, ‘Moisty doesn’t exist? Are you sure we can’t say moisty?’”
Bellanger, who has a wife and three young sons, says living in New Jersey “is great…because as soon as you go a little bit deep in, right away it is kind of the countryside, and I like that very much.” He allows that, “The only difficulty in Jersey is the [property] taxes. At the end of the year, you are like, Oh, I can’t believe I gave that much.”
During days of taping that lasted 12 hours or more, Bellanger looked forward to the occasional day off. “It’s really necessary,” he says. “In between all those cupcakes and the long hours, you need to recover. So my day off is just salad and water.”